Andrea here. In this month's Ask A Wench, we're all dishing on the first romance book we ever read. The answers and musings are so much fun, I won't waste time on a flowery intro—let's just jump right into the stories! (But be sure share what YOUR first romance book was in the comments!)
Anne: The first romance (in the sense of a love story) I read was These Old Shades, by Georgette Heyer which I borrowed from my local library when I was eleven. I didn't really think of it as a romance at the time, just a really good book with a lovely happy ending. I loved the various characters and the brilliant humor and the story, which contained so many things I later discovered were popular tropes in romance. The story contained elements of the "chick-in-pants", "Cinderella," "The Lost Heir," "The Secret Identity," the "Innocent and the Jaded Rake" and more, which all made for an enticing and engrossing read. I went on to read (and reread) all her other books.
The impact it had on me is pretty obvious. Georgette Heyer is the reason I write Regency-era historical romance. I don't try to imitate her — that would be impossible — but because of her, and because I discovered her books so young, I almost feel as if I grew up in that particular Regency World and it feels a bit like home to me. It wasn't until years later, when I was setting out to become a writer, that I learned that there was a whole genre devoted to historical romance, and when I discovered that publishers were publishing Regency-era romance, I knew then it was what I wanted to write. And so I did.
Pat: First, I’d have to define “romance.” I thought when I read Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice that I was reading English literature. The books came from the Scholastic Book Club after all, and I was only 9. I wore those books out—not because of the language or any high-falutin’ themes but for the romance. Even at that age I was thrilled by the romantic relationship of these totally unsuitable couples, but I’d never heard of “romance” as a genre.
Once I reached high school, I dived into real classics, the heavy duty tomes of British and Russian literature plus the 20th century American classics. Theodore Dreiser anyone?
Not until I was almost thirty did I stumble across what we call genre romance today—through Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower. Sex in a book! I’d been reading heavily for over two decades and had never read sex in a book. I didn’t know Silhouettes and Harlequins existed. But Woodiwiss gave me both rich historical detail that fed my Brit lit soul plus my Jane Eyre obsession.
After that, I was off and running!
Christina: I’m guessing we don’t count fairy tales, although even as a child I was always desperate to get to the romantic bit where the prince gets his princess and they have their first kiss. (Rapunzel is and will always be my favourite!). I also remember being very excited about the fact that Tom Sawyer kissed a girl, but it was hardly proper romance and sadly a one-off occurrence. There were no romantic teen books when I was that age, so I had to move on to adult novels. I think the first real romance I read was Gone With the Wind but it was extremely disappointing as I hated the ending! I later discovered Victoria Holt’s gothic novels, which had some romance, but still not enough for me. It wasn’t until I came across Georgette Heyer in my high school library, and soon after discovered Johanna Lindsey, that I found what I’d been looking for. Heyer’s witty proper stories and Lindsey’s more sizzling ones couldn’t have been more different but I loved them both instantly!
Mary Jo: I can't remember the first romance I ever read, though I always loved the romance subplots in mysteries and historical novels. If I have to chose a formal starting place, I'll go with Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree.
I read a lengthy condensation of the novel that was in my mother's Lady's Home Journal, and it was riveting. I was pretty young, so I was totally blown away by the surprise twist. (And without knowing it, I was learning how to do twists of my own in my books decades later. <G>)
I went on to read a lot of romantic suspense: Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, paperback Gothics with covers showing women with insanely long hair that was blowing in the wind as they fearfully contemplated a haunted looking castle. <G>
Later, my first encounters with genre historical romance were so awful that I never got beyond the second chapter: love at first rape, heroines who defined 'too stupid' to live. Ugh!
It will surprise no one if I say that I made my way into genre romance via Georgette Heyer. My first Heyer read Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle,the gateway drug to the world of Regency Romance, which is where I live to this day. <G>
Nicola: The first romance book I read was Katherine by Anya Seton. I found it along with lots of other novels in the back of my grandmother’s wardrobe when I was about eleven years old. What a magical world it conjured up for me of history and romance! That was it – my lifelong love of history was ignited. Before that I’d read everything from children’s books to sci fi; whatever was on the bookshelves at home. Now a whole new world opened up to me. Historical romantic fiction! I read my way through all my grandmother’s Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney books, Jean Plaidy and of course Georgette Heyer. She also had what were called “sex and shopping” books by authors such as Judith Krantz, and “clogs and shawls” sagas by Catherine Cookson. I learned about sex from those books, rather an eye-opener to a teenager in those days. But my favourite books were always the romantic suspense and the historical romance, although of course at that age I didn’t know anything about the different genres. I just knew I liked heroes with integrity, heroines with gumption and happy endings.
Susan: I loved romantic stories long before I discovered romance fiction – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the rest were a great launchpad, though I preferred the original fairy tales over homogenized, where heroines were tough and independent, heroes didn't always sweep in to the rescue, and life and magic presented interesting challenges. Then one evening my sisters and I watched The Moon-Spinners — the Disney movie — on TV, and my little girl's heart was utterly lost. Then I found not just one novel, but a whole stack of Mary Stewart books in the library, and my love of romantic fiction truly began. These were heroines who were on their own, smart, kind, and curious, facing crisis and fear with a cool head–and the heroes were strong, intelligent, respectful, and beautifully understated.
So I gobbled up Mary Stewart, along with classics like Jane Eyre and Little Women, and went on to Victoria Holt, Rosemary Hawley Jarman, Anya Seton, and more. Though I craved history in my reading, Regency never quite caught my interest. On to college, art school, and grad school to study medieval. But I had not explored the historical romance genre, which was huge in paperback fiction.
Then I was put on bedrest for months with a high-risk pregnancy, and academic books were physically too heavy to read, so a friend brought paperbacks–including The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Woh! What was this! Medieval, juicy fiction, story action, strong characters–and a sexy, challenging relationship. Bring me more! Soon I was reading all the romance fiction I could find. And one day I realized this was a great direction for my own writing–so I gave that a try.
Andrea: I was a voracious reader as a kid—the kind whose Mother did occasional “flashlight-under-the-cover” checks to make sure I wasn’t staying up way too late with a book. And my tastes were eclectic . . . stories about knights in shining armor, quirky animals forming eccentric friendships, kid and dog stories . . . But looking back, they all had common themes—heroes and heroines who were braver than they thought they were, the power of friendship, loyalty, honor, a sense of justice, and that Right should overpower Wrong.
So I think it’s no wonder that when I discovered my first romance book in my early teens I fell in love. Okay, it wasn’t a traditional romance. Adventure, danger, and mystery were a a big part of the slow-burn romance between the hero and heroine. Hmmm, no wonder I write what I write! Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners really took my breath away. And then I grabbed This Rough Magic. Fluttery sigh! An exotic location, a brooding hero, Shakespearean references, a mystery to solve and villain to thwart. Yeah, I was hooked. I then found Austen and Heyer, and, well, started a love affair for a lifetime!
So now it's your turn! What was the first romance book you read? Please share!